Poseidon Ocean Systems wants fish to breathe better

The Campbell River-based company is revolutionizing how aquaculture uses compressed air.

This is part 3 of our series on BC-based aquatech companies for World Oceans Day. Read part 2: This.Fish is digitizing your seafood

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Like This.Fish, who were featured in part 2 of this series, Poseidon Ocean Systems, was a recipient of $150,000 in InnovateBC’s Aquaculture Innovation Awards. Poseidon is based in Campbell River, a city on the East coast of Vancouver Island overlooking Discovery Passage, a strait that separates Vancouver Island from the Discovery Islands. If you wish to travel, say, from This.Fish’s outpost in the Vancouver neighborhood of Gastown to Poseidon’s Campbell River home, Google Maps suggests heading across the Lions Gate Bridge, boarding a ferry in West Vancouver, departing the ferry when it docks at the Vancouver Island city of Nanaimo then driving north along Highway 19. 

If you’re lucky, there will be a traffic jam when you pull into Campbell River. This congestion will be caused by orcas dancing in Discovery Passage and traffic, rightly so, has slowed to take it all in. For Heather Clarke, Poseidon’s co-founder, it’s an opportunity to flex on her siblings still living in her hometown of Toronto. “I come from a huge family. So, I've got six brothers and sisters and most of them are still back in Toronto. I get to have that snarky ‘here's my traffic jam today’ picture.” 

Clarke made the journey from Toronto to BC for the 2010 Olympics. “I decided to move from Toronto to Vancouver because the Olympics were coming. I was a competitive figure skater on the national team for figure skating. And Matt was a very competitive hockey player. We met during the Olympics.” “Matt,” of course, is Matt Clarke, Heather’s husband and fellow co-founder. Each brings a complimentary background to Poseidon. Heather received a degree from Ryerson University and specialized in finance and accounting before working in Vancouver’s investment management space. Matt, on the other hand, grew up on the tip of Vancouver Island in the district municipality of Port Hardy. For comparison, Ryerson enrolled roughly 36,000 students in 2015 while Port Hardy recorded just over 4,000 residents in the 2016 census.

If you’re drawn to marine life, however, Port Hardy is a boon. Matt’s CV features roles at the Canadian Coast Guard and a fish processing plant before enrolling in engineering at UBC. Seeking a change of pace and lifestyle from Vancouver, the Clarkes relocated to Vancouver Island. After a series of entrepreneurial endeavours, around the birth of their first child—who Heather told me often sat in her lap in those early days—the Clarkes founded Poseidon. The innovation that put Poseidon on Innovate BC’s radar is the company’s Flowpressor Technology Platform.

The Flowpressor Technology Platform provides a clean solution for the compressors used in aquaculture. Poseidon’s innovation uses compressed air to run aeration systems, oxygen generators and feed systems. The Flowpressor Technology Platform also reduces diesel fuel consumption by 55%. Heather refers to it as the “life support system,” a particularly apt description when looking at why it is in place. “If you think about an aquarium at your home, you need to be aerating the water. Our life support systems are pretty much that same idea where you’re aerating the water but obviously at a much larger scale,” she explained.

“You do that to help mitigate against things like algae blooms, jellyfish infestations and all those things that can actually really impact the gill health of the fish and can then have mortalities,” Heather continued. “Especially up in the inlets north of Port Hardy, there can be some significant algae blooms that come in there. Our equipment helps prevent mass mortalities.” When the Clarkes saw this severity and pressed traditional compressor providers to innovate their offerings, their approaches fell on deaf ears. Instead of continuing to run into these walls, they launched Poseidon to build these systems themselves. 

As their company and their innovation prospered, the Clarkes caught wind of the Aquaculture Innovation Awards. “I actually had a bunch of people reach out to me from the industry: ‘you have to apply for this. It's like they made it for you. This has got Poseidon’s name all over it,’” Heather humbly recalled. This humility does, however, create a pseudo chicken or the egg dilemma. Was the Innovate BC award handed her way or was her positive entrepreneurial inertia too much for Innovate BC to ignore? I would argue the latter as the Clarkes’ company has now reached international audiences. “We've heard from potential customers in Scotland, in Norway and in Chile. They've all heard about it. It’s given us some of that earned media that's beyond just British Columbia, which I hope was the intent,” she mentioned. 

While International waters beckon for Poseidon, Heather can’t help but think about those that make up her home. “I think anyone in BC has a special relationship with the ocean,” Heather pointed out after I asked her how we could make World Oceans Day, every day. 

She continued by sharing her hope for the future of our oceans. “I think our school systems are doing a really great job with that here in BC. I really love the curriculum that I've seen with my kids at school now. I've got a lot of hope for that next generation and the future. I think the more that we can involve our children in the decision-making process of what goes into their bodies, the better. I take my kids grocery shopping, we take them fishing, all that kind of stuff. They have a better understanding of where their food comes from and really start to connect those dots. As adults, we’re trying to take responsibility of that stewardship.”

This is part 3 of our series on BC-based aquatech companies for World Oceans Day. Read part 4: Come hurricane or high water